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Strategies
Winning strategies for Pai Gow
by Max Drayman
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The odds

We could quote the straight probabilities of drawing different back and front hands, but that's not particularly meaningful. Since Pai Gow is a game of skill the odds are difficult to pin down. Suffice it to say that if you follow an optimal playing strategy you're going to win about 3-in-10 hands, lose about the same, and push about 4-in-10.

Assuming an optimum play strategy, the largest play advantage is to the dealer/banker because copies go to them. In fact, noted Pai Gow expert Stanford Wong has been quoted as saying that being dealer/banker as often as possible has the most significant impact on a winning strategy. The appeal of multi-player games is clear.

Strategy

Now the complexity of Pai Gow really shows. For the sake of discussion, lets call any pair of 2's through 6's a "low pair", 7's through J's a "medium pair", and Q's through A's a "high pair". To avoid confusion we'll call the two-card hand the "front" hand and the five-card the "back" hand.

No Pair:

  • Back hand: the highest card; Front hand: the next two highest cards.

One pair:

  • Back: the pair; Front: next two highest cards.

Two Pair:

  • Pair of A's and any other Pair: Back: high pair; Front: other pair.
  • Two High Pair: Back: best pair; Front: other pair.
  • High Pair and Medium Pair: Back: high pair; Front: medium pair.
  • High Pair and Low Pair with A or K: Back: both pair; Front: A or K.
  • High Pair and Low pair without A or K: Back: highest pair; Front: low pair.
  • Two Medium Pair with A or K: Back: both pair; Front: A or K.
  • Two Medium Pair without A or K: Back: best pair; Front: other pair.
  • Medium Pair and Low Pair with A or K: Back: both pair; Front: A or K.
  • Medium Pair and Low Pair without A or K: Back: medium pair; Front: low pair.
  • Two Low Pair with A or K: Back: both pair; Front: A or K.
  • Two Low Pair without A or K: Back: best pair; Front other pair.

Three Pair:

  • Back: second and third highest pair; Front: highest pair.

Three of a Kind:

  • Three A's: Back: pair of A's; Front: A and next highest card.
  • All others: Back: three of a kind; Front: two highest remaining cards.

Three of a Kind twice:

  • Back: lower three of a kind; Front: highest pair.

Full House:

  • With second Three of a kind: play the highest pair to Front hand.
  • With second Pair: Back: full house with low pair; Front: highest pair.
  • Pair is 2's with A or K: Back: full house; Front: A or K.
  • All others: Back: three of a kind; Front: the pair.

Straights, Flushes, Straight Flushes and Royal Flush:

  • With no pair: Back: lowest full hand; Front: two highest cards.
  • With one or two Pair: Back: lowest full hand; Front: two highest cards, pair or otherwise.
  • With Three of a Kind: Back: full hand; Front: pair.
  • With Full House: Back: three of a kind; Front: pair.
  • With Three of a Kind twice: Back: lower three; Front: highest two.

Four of a Kind:

  • With Three of a Kind: Back: four of a kind; Front: pair from the tree of a kind.
  • With a Pair: Back: four of a kind; Front: pair.
  • Four A's: Back: pair of A's; Front: pair of A's.
  • J's through K's with an A: Back: four of a kind; Front: the A.
  • J's through K's without an A: Back: one pair from the four; Front: the other pair.
  • 7's through 10's with A or K: Back: four of a kind; Front: A or K.
  • 7's through 10's without A or K: Back: one pair from the four; front: the other pair.
  • 2's through 6's: Back: four of a kind; front: highest remaining two.
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